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Smoking - one of the biggest threats to public health in the Nordic region

  • Folkhälsa

Every year around 50,000 people die from tobacco-related illnesses in the Nordic region. Measured in terms of morbidity and mortality, smoking is one of the greatest threats to public health. Initiatives to prevent smoking and to promote health could, therefore, be highly beneficial for the individual and society.

 The Nordic Welfare Centre’s new publication, Smoking Cessation in the Nordic Region, provides an overview of the trends in smoking in the Nordic region while at the same illustrating how the work with smoking and tobacco cessation is structured in these countries. Examples of national initiatives dedicated to smoking and tobacco cessation, that have been tried or are underway in the countries in the Nordic region, are also presented.

Smoking shortens life by 7-10 years 

“Compared to a non-smoker, a smoker’s life is shortened by an average of 7-10 years, and they often have poor health, which can give fewer years with a good quality of life. Furthermore, smoking is the greatest single cause of many forms of cancer, such as lung cancer and other diseases such as COPD (smoker’s lung), diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” says Nadja Frederiksen, project manager at the Nordic Welfare Centre.

The area in the Nordic region with the highest proportion of smokers is Greenland. 60 per cent of Greenland’s population aged over 18 smoke. The Faroe Islands come in second place with 27 per cent, followed by Finland with 23 per cent, Denmark with 22 per cent, Norway with 19 per cent, Åland with 17 per cent, Iceland with 15 per cent, and Sweden with 14 per cent.

Smoking rates decline more slowly than before 

The percentage of daily smokers in the Nordic countries has fallen dramatically in the last 50 years. The trend is continuing to decrease steadily, but it is going at a much slower pace than before.

“It is worrying for public health that the decrease in tobacco smoking in general in the Nordic countries is slower than it was before, at the same time that we see a rise in other forms of tobacco use and e-cigarettes. It therefore remains important to focus on the essential structural measures and initiatives so we can maintain this trend and still head for a future when there are fewer smokers,” says Nadja Frederiksen.

It costs money to get people to stop smoking

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that a minimum of three types of smoking cessation interventions should form part of an extensive tobacco control programme, and Frederiksen says that the Nordic countries more or less meet these recommendations. The recommendations are advice on smoking cessation in the primary healthcare sector, a national stop smoking helpline with free telephone advice on smoking cessation and the availability of pharmacological aids - as a minimum, nicotine replacement products.

“Getting people to stop smoking costs money, but doing nothing also incurs high costs. Investments in services for smoking cessation are therefore essential in the battle against tobacco, regardless of the level at which it is fought,” says Frederiksen.

Read and download the report: Smoking Cessation in the Nordic Region

The report is also available in Danish: Rygeafvænning i Norden

The report is part of the Nordic Welfare Centre project The Nordic Tobacco Project (in Danish)

Hands holding a cigarette
Nadja Frederiksen


Nadja Frederiksen



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Nordens välfärdscenter | tel: +46 8 545 536 00 | | En institution under Nordiska ministerrådet